South London Photographer: A metaphorical lesson from my kids

“Can you literally open the door, Mum?” said my three old child to me the other day.“What do you mean, can I literally open the door? How else I am meant to open it for you, small person? Metaphorically?”

“MUM!!” he wailed, “Literally open the door!”

Wow, I think perhaps I should stop reading to them. They’re all getting much smarter than me and quickly too. Why am I embarking on a metaphysical/philosophical conversation with Son No. 3 at 8am in the morning?

Son No 1 is no better. As we left a friend’s recently, he discussed various parenting styles and compared mine to my friend’s.

“Oh, you use to be just as overly patient and understanding with me. Then No 2 arrived and you grew up.”

“Did I? How so?”

He was fairly sanguine when he answered, “Now you just scream that you’re going to castrate us all and throw us out the window.

“Oops!” I said.

A few days later I tried to excuse my insane and ludicrous threats made in rage and said that at least I don’t literally castrate them. Son No 1 looked at me and smiled,

“No, but you’ve definitely metaphorically castrated us…”

Oh my god, have I? Really? What if he’s right? I’m going to console myself with the fact that Son No 1 wouldn’t even remotely be able to have such a conversation with me if he were indeed castrated in any metaphorical sense and in actual fact, despite a traumatic and horrible family break-up, he’s doing pretty well indeed. And why do I say such ludicrous things – because I kind of feel that by making truly and utterly ridiculous threats I send them all a very clear message that even though I’m furious, I’m also minded to turn myself into a cartoon, therefore making myself less threatening to them while there are metaphorical flames flying out of my ears.  Well, that’s the theory anyway.

There is so much parenting advice out there. Basically, if you breathe the wrong way you are potentially damaging your child forever, so don’t, whatever you do, breathe the wrong way. That kind of atmosphere makes us all terrified. And so we compensate by over-parenting, which is probably what I was doing with Son No 1 before any more children came along.  Many of us do it at some point in one way or another.  It’s difficult to avoid nowadays.  But what over-parenting does to children is make them totally unprepared for real, robust and three-dimensional relationships. Relationships where people are able to express their themselves and know that it is OK, that an angry person has not stopped loving them, but is simply angry. I’m not saying it’s easy. And there is no failsafe ‘recipe’.

Paranoid Parenting by Frank Ferudi is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of over-parenting. In it he says, “Parenting is not a complex science. It is not even as a science at all. Sometimes boring, ordinary, and even banal, bringing up children is always demanding. Parents can afford to make mistakes but they would do well to learn from them”.

I know the quote I’ve used invites plenty of “but what if” questions and sure, the subject is probably a little more complex than can be summed in that paragraph – which is why I absolutely recommend reading the whole book.  Whether or not I’m doing my best by threatening castration as a behavioural solution (mind you, you never know…) is of course debatable. It is also subject to personal opinion, cultural outlook, and the sort of relationship you might have with children in general.

I do know, however, that my children are more or less doing pretty well with life. We have been on quite a bumpy journey over the last few years and it continues to be less than smooth at times. But we’re all doing OK.  Literally and metaphorically.  It’s a hard slog getting over a divorce, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and it takes a long time. (I was going to write about the reality of that in response to a post on a forum I saw the other day which had some ignorant and flippant comments in it but I think I’ll wait and let those thoughts formulate for a little longer). Weeks go by and I think, yes, we (I’m) are getting through this.  And then something happens and I feel like I’m back in the early traumatising moments all over again – and on those days, Son No 3, I am barely able to open any doors literally or metaphorically.  But when Son No 1 laughs and teases me about my slightly wonky parenting style by making a pretend quiz-show buzzer sound followed by “Parenting fail, Mum!” I am filled with the knowledge that for now the 4 of us are just fine.

I’ve managed to do some work over the summer but I’m posting some recent family shots this week. Mainly because they tie in with the text, and because I feel that if I posted a client’s family to illustrate this week’s blog they might take offence at being associated with my brand of parenting. But also because these photographs were taken at the same place as some photographs I posted last year – West Wittering Beach. And I am quite heartened by the steps we’ve all taken over the last 12 months. They may be small steps in some instances but things have certainly moved and all for the better. For me, at any rate, that positive journey is evident in the difference between the photographs I took last year and the ones I took the other day.

Hope everyone’s bearing up with the long summer hols. I have to say there are days when I’m not sure I am, but thankfully they are countered by some really great days such as the one recorded in these images. SJ x

All images (c)Sarah-Jane Field 2015sand- sand-9415 sand-9462 sand-9564sand-9586-2

South London Photographer: Childcare advice, lies and Piglets

Lordy, bringing up children is fraught with responsibility.   Constant worrying, questioning and self-doubt could be crippling if one allowed it to be. There is so much advice out there. Some of it horribly conflicting.

One of my favourite books is called What are children for? by Laurie Taylor and Matthew Taylor, a father and son pair who explore why people are choosing not to have children in our society, and what people who do often expect from ‘family’. I read it when Son No 1 was still just a baby, perhaps hoping it might tell me what I was meant to be doing with my small person in a simple and easy to understand way.

In fact What are children for? questions the value of child-care advice. They point out that the ubiquitous pontificating we parents are faced with is often not worth listening to. “Much of this output takes the form of experts advising parents on what they should or should not do to bring up their children safely, responsibly, and successfully. A large proportion of these pronouncements is pious in tone and based on dubious scientific findings, but nothing, it seems, can stem the tide.”

I’m not entirely sure how saying, “That’s it! I’m going castrate you all!” would go down with the experts but Son No 1 said, “I don’t think you’re meant to use that as threat, Mum, you know for the sake of our future well-being…”

Actually last night I tried hard to be a very stern and strict parent who demanded a kind of dictatorial sense of order. Well, they looked at me with utter shock for about 30 seconds before all four of us burst out laughing, a little hysterically it must be said, and then carried on as usual.

Whatever the truth about parenting, I think my over-riding ambition is to instill a sense of honesty in them. I hate lies. I can’t bear the stupidity of lying. My dream partner would be someone who understood just how utterly ridiculous lies can be, which of course may just be a fantastical dream but one lives in hope…(It has to be said, if someone asks you “Do I look fat in this?” there is a certain amount of diplomacy required.)  Blatant, stupid, nonsensical lies really get my goat.

They know how I feel about lying, and although like all children they continue to tell utterly pathetic lies from time to time, they always do it half-heartedly now and then retract it pretty soon afterwards.   If I instill nothing else other than an abhorrence of lying, then I’d feel like I’d have done one small thing for the good of society.

Maybe that’s a failing in me. My dearest oldest friend tells me I have some sort of honesty Tourette’s and perhaps she’s right. I tend to disagree though as I have prevented myself from being honest in the past for fear of looking stupid. And have always regretted it. In any case looking stupid is not so bad. You pick yourself up and move on, don’t you?   Better to stick to your guns and be honest, I’ve come to realise and hope the kids will realise that too.

So, as far as parenting advice goes, I think I’ll end this week’s post with a quote from Frank Ferudi’s Paranoid Parenting, which I found thoroughly sensible, intelligent, the opposite of pious and extremely well researched:

“Parenting is not a complex science. It is not even a science at all. It is actually just a natural undertaking.   Sometimes ordinary, sometimes boring and even banal, bringing up children is always demanding. Parents can afford to make mistakes, although they would do well to learn from them… Be prepared to call the expert’s bluff.”

I think that means… Chill!

Here are some photos of some kiddies from a recent session of Mini-Shoots I did at Piglets Play Centre in Hersham, Surrey. I’ll do another at some point soon so if you’re after some professional portraits and a day out watch this space!

Paranoid Parenting by Frank Ferudi published by Continuum 2008

What Are Children For? by Laurie Taylor and Matthew Taylor Short Books 2003

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